Somewhere on the way to gender equality, young women have apparently lost the ability to iron a shirt or roast a chicken. So says a patronizing new study — titled “Male and female roles in the 21st century: breaking gender stereotypes” — by Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle.
What we learn from an exclamation-point-studded press release from McCrindle’s company is that when it comes to the tricks of the traditional housewife trade, millennial women fall short. They are much less able than their mothers to bake a birthday cake, hem a skirt or grow a plant from a cutting. (Insert gasp here) On the other hand, McCrindle found that these women are more likely to pay the bills, wash the car, or even change a lightbulb — bless their hearts — presumably, while their male counterparts are cooking dinner, stacking the dishwasher or changing their babies’ nappies. The study also found that 61.2 percent of the men surveyed could also work magic with a steam iron. About the testosterone shift, McCrindle tells us in his press release:
“What we are seeing is not so much a decline in ‘man skills’ but rather a change in family dynamics, reflecting that both parents are likely to have full time jobs and greater demands on their time than ever before.”
“Even though skills such as woodworking and mechanics are on the decline, men are picking up new talents such as cooking, ironing and an increased role in bringing up the kids. The advent of “Kitchen TV” in particular seems to have influenced our nation’s men, with over half the population saying men can now fire up the oven to bake a cake, or cook for a crowd at a dinner party,” McCrindle continued.
Fancy that. As for the Millenial women:
Mark McCrindle said, “Gen Y women are sometimes disparaged as having lost the traditional skills of their mothers, yet the reality is that they are a multiskilled generation. The fact is that they are more likely to text a photo than dust a photo frame, or work with spreadsheets rather than mend bedsheets is testament to their twentieth century roles.”
Feeling patronized yet?
What’s funny in that not-really-funny-kind-of-way is that, despite its title, the study breathlessly defines these “changing gender roles” in terms of silly gender stereotypes. And in doing so, completely trivializes the point — if not misses it completely. We are at a place in time when truly changing gender roles is more important than ever before. In terms of career options, women’s roles have evolved to the point where, just like our male counterparts, we too can work 40 hour weeks that add up to 52. We can be doctors or lawyers, bankers or brokers. We earn more than our share of advanced degrees. And we grow up knowing that, for most of us, work is not a choice, but a necessity.
And yet. While all those doors are open to us, once we walk inside them, we’re faced with workplace structures designed by and for men. (You know, the ones with the wives at home with a chicken in the oven.) As we’ve noted in this space time and again, though we’re welcome in the building, we rarely make it upstairs to the boardroom: Sooner or later we slam up against that maternal wall that prevents women with kids from moving forward in their careers for fear that childcare responsibilities might interfere with their performance — and women without kids are also held back because, you know, they might have them. On the other hand, a man with kids gets to be a “family man.” As in, all around good guy: reliable and raise-worthy.
Meanwhile, maternity leave? Paternity leave? Available day care? For most families, more pipe dream than reality.
And then comes the second shift where studies show that the household division of labor often reverts back to the days when men earned the bread and the women baked it. So yeah, it’s sweet that men can load the dishwasher or change a diaper, but really, who cares? If gender roles are truly going to change, it calls for a much deeper conversation on more substantive issues than chickens and nappies. And in fact, there’s one going on now over at Role/Reboot, a new website that challenges members of the “shift generation” to employ the book club model to start talking about how to make change in a meaningful way:
Definitions of womanhood and manhood are breaking down, along with all the expectations and baggage that come with them. And for that, we’re thrilled. But we often feel like the country hasn’t really caught up – or worse, is again entering a period of woeful feminist backlash – and the realities of our lives aren’t well reflected in the media (thanks “The Bachelor” and “Bridalplasty”!) or the policy arena (Oy, where to begin…). Society is still so conflicted about women and men’s roles, and often we are too – both personally, and within our relationships. It’s a confusing moment, and like our 60s sisters, we want to talk about it.
But back to the McCrindle’s study. Despite the fact that it’s nonsense, I must confess two points of resonance. One, the only person (including me) who has ever used an iron in our house is my son-in-law. And two, unlike my millennial sisters, I can cook a killer roast chicken. If it matters, I’ll be glad to show you how.